By Pravin Sheth.
In the contemporary context of the growing environmental challenge, leading to the mankind’s first ever global crisis, Gandhi is becoming increasingly relevant in a rather unexpected area of ecology. In a way Gandhi was the world’s early environmentalist – in vision and practice.
Gandhi was socialised in the Indian cultural tradition and he had taken quite advanced education in England. He, therefore, could claim to have comparative views of the living life-style and progress of both India and the West. As early as in 1909, in his small but perceptive publication, Hind Swaraj, Gandhi stated, that the civilization of the West then being welcome in India in the name of modernity is a ‘Bhasmasur’ (Destructive monster). It is a civilization which equates consumerist lifestyle and abundance with development. It can not be civilization in real sense of the term.
There is no end to the desire of the man, indiscriminate satisfaction of which has led the West to have mastery over nature. (He distinguished between the needs and the wants of the human beings).
In Hind Swaraj, he had given his critique of modern civilization. He had shown the limits of the Western World and criticised the extent of technology use and evils of higher and higher standard of living.
Gandhi said that, if imitating the West, India (with its vast population) tried to reach the living standard of England the resources of the earth will not be enough. He also cautioned against what was later on to be known as the ‘consumerist culture’ and a ‘waste-centric society’. His celebrated and often quoted statement that, ‘the Earth has enough to satisfy the need of all the people, but not for satisfying the greed of some,’ has become astonishingly relevant in 1990’s. He distinguished between ‘need’ and ‘want’ of the human being. Gandhi also emphasised to keep in view, the Future Generations before using up natural resources by the present generation. Kamala Chowdhary has found the reflection of Gandhi’s ideas related to environment in the "Agenda 21" fashioned by the largest ever number of the nations of the world at the Earth Summit at Rio-de-Janeiro in 1992.
Gandhi who had lived in England and South Africa ruled by the white colonialists was a maverick when he stated that God may save India from the way the west has adopted industrialism. Economic imperialism of a single small island (England) keeps the whole world in chains. If a whole nation of 30 crore population (India) will proceed on the path of such economic exploitations it will eat up the whole world like locusts.
Commenting on modern civilization, he said that it seeks to increase physical comforts of the people. We should keep patience to see that such a civilization will invite its own destruction. In the wild fire of this civilization the material will be devoured up as ‘Bali’, there is no limit to it. Those who believe it to be good will be caught by its burning flames. Such a devastating effect, this modern Bhasmasur has.
Gandhi had not only the vision about environment, he not only exhorted his country men to be critically aware of uncritical acceptance of technology & eating up with the west in terms of its living standard.
Not only did he exhort the people to see the adverse link between the Western civilization and the threat to natural resources leading to what is known today as ‘ecological crisis’ and what he called the exhaustion of earth’s resources if all the countries went the way the west was going, but he himself put into practise what he exhorted.
For example, he put emphasis on keeping one’s home and surroundings clean. One of his tests to choose an intimate in his Ashram test in choosing his inmate in Ashram he/she cleansed his own toilet. Everyday when Gandhi was taking bath in the (1920’s – 1930) freely flowing and unpolluted water of the Sabarmati near the Ashram, he consciously used only the minimum requisite water needed for taking bath. On being asked why he was using the river water so sparingly when it was available in abundance, he remarked that all that was flowing in the river was not his. A telling illustration of Aparigraha (non-possession) and a telling example of an exemplary action related to conservation of Nature’s resources. Like him, many of his followers used scrapes of papers for writing brief notes and reversed envelop for reuse to send letters.
Gandhi also emphasised non-violence, as in the other field, in relation to nature as well. Nature was to be approached with a sense of reverence. It should not be hurt. The man, the most powerful living being on the earth should not cause violence to sentient beings including the plants and animals. This was his meaning of ecological balance and peace.